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The Surprising Questions Agents Can't Answer

Posted by: Peter Coy on June 27, 2007

Selling real estate in New York City is like walking through a minefield. Almost anything you say, or any question you answer, could land you in court on grounds of

The New York Times ran a great article this past Sunday called “Questions Your Broker Can’t Answer.”

For example:

**If a young couple with children wants to know if a building is family-friendly … don’t answer! You could be accused of steering people toward or away from certain buildings on grounds of “children or childless state.”

**Don’t ask what a buyer does for a living. This prohibition is meant to protect lawyers, who have a hard time getting into some buildings because their neighbors fear they will be litigious.

**Don’t identify the school district in which a building is located. (Actually, you can answer the question if directly asked, but you can’t advertise it.) This is meant to avoid racial discrimination, since districts have different racial compositions.

**Don’t advertise that a building is “near churches,” because it could be seen as a preference for Christian buyers.

Actually, a move is afoot in NYC to make the anti-discrimination rules even tougher. To forestall that, the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums and the Real Estate Board of New York have put together a guide to help co-op boards avoid discriminating against buyers on any one of 14 criteria, from race and creed to military status and sexual orientation.

Here’s a link to that document.

Reader Comments

Teresa Boardman

June 27, 2007 4:05 PM

I am a Minnesota Broker. I think everything is illegal here. I can tell them the price and point out defects.


June 28, 2007 12:03 PM

Most of these are true anywhere if you have taken your license within the last few years.

I love the part about the lawyer.

Susan Milner

May 27, 2008 12:13 PM

Yes these are all Illegal to speak about. I get asked many questions to which I cannot respond.

Dave Johnson

June 26, 2008 4:16 PM

This article was refuted by an offical from the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development in a letter to the editor that read as follows:

To the Editor:

Your June 24 cover article ''Questions Your Broker Can't Answer'' focused on the Fair Housing Act's prohibitions against discriminatory advertisements, but mischaracterized its proper legal application.

Housing providers who advertise that their buildings are ''family friendly'' aren't violating the law. Instead, they are announcing their compliance with the law by saying that they don't discriminate against families with children.

The law in this area is simple but just. Housing providers should not fear that making such statements will put them on the wrong side of it.

Kim Kendrick


The writer is assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

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BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.

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